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How to Reduce Liability When Reopening Your Gym with Online Waivers and Disclaimers

May 20, 2020

Online Waiver

The day has come! Your state or city has issued a date for when you can reopen and return to training in-studio with your members. But with the fanfare and excitement of reopening your doors comes the anxiety of how to protect your gym, your students, and your staff from the risks of contracting the virus. One way is to protect yourself with a waiver or a disclaimer addressing the added threats of working out in a COVID-19 world. If you’re curious about the differences between disclaimers and online waivers and how to reduce liability while preparing to reopen your gym, see below!

 

Disclaimers and Waivers: The Difference

At first blush, it may be hard to tell disclaimers and waivers apart. That’s mostly because both terms are frequently used interchangeably. But they differ in key ways.

 

Disclaimers are defined as any statement or document that’s used to specify or determine the limit of rights and responsibilities that can be exercised or enforced by people in a legally binding contract. The most popular examples include copyright disclaimers for content on a website or app and no responsibility disclaimers to remove all responsibility when people use services or products.

 

Disclaimers lay out all precautions taken, and risks present for your members and lets them decide whether or not they still want to train with you.

 

Waivers, on the other hand, are defined as the voluntary giving up or surrendering of a known right or privilege by way of written or action-based consent. The most common one is a liability waiver, which is a written contract between two or more parties where the customer acknowledges the risks of participating in an activity or accepting services from the other party.

 

Waivers typically require signature, where a disclaimer can have either (we suggest requiring a signature). Both are typically used in situations that involve some level of risk, uncertainty, harm, or injury.

 

In light of COVID-19, you may be tempted to add language concerning the virus to your pre existing liability waivers because it seems easier. But we advise creating a separate waiver or disclaimer to distribute to your students and prospects. This way, it’s easier to keep up with who has signed the document versus who has not. Especially for those who have been training with you awhile and have previously signed a waiver. It also lessens the likelihood that they’ll skim the document and blindly sign. And if you’re looking for examples of disclaimers, see here for a sample from Florida-based insurance company Block Insurance.

 

 

Things to Keep in Mind

It’s important to remember that disclaimers and waivers aren’t one size fits all solutions. Because they’re so diverse and each city and state’s laws vary, you have to figure out what works for you and your gym. Beth Block, president of Block Insurance, advises knowing the difference between what is recommended and what is required by your state and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Does your state require you to take temperatures before permitting a student into your studio? Are they recommended to wear a mask? What about social distancing? Is it 6 feet or 10 feet apart? Is a disclaimer enforceable? (In some states, they aren’t) These are all important details to know and include when drafting up your disclaimer.

 

Block also suggests considering things like split families. If the enrolling parent signs the disclaimer, the non-enrolling parent could still potentially sue you if a family member were to contract the virus. So, including indemnification language in your paperwork to cover you from other family members may be a wise effort.

 

Make sure it’s vetted and approved by a law professional before it gets the go-ahead to be signed. If someone claims that they contracted COVID from your studio, they’re going to be looking to you and referencing your requirements and recommendations in court. So be prepared to defend yourself if you’re not strictly abiding by the protocol documented in your disclaimer.

 

And lastly, keep documentation of everything: your plans posted, signatures collected, temperatures recorded, and who’s attending every class and what time. If you’re using management software like Kicksite, you can keep track of all of these details in the notes and comments section for each student’s profile, as well as send out your waivers and disclaimers digitally.

 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication continues to be key in this COVID-changed world, so keep at it! There’s no such thing as oversharing. Set expectations. Communicate what you can realistically do and detail to students and staff alike all of the precautions you’re going to take to make sure the gym is clean and sanitized and can ensure that they have the best and safest experience possible.

 

When they read your waiver or disclaimer, give them a few minutes to truly sit with the document and digest it. Afterward, encourage them to ask questions and voice concerns, as they may have plenty.  Every bit of information you provide, every step that you take is another point of trust they gain for you.

 

And communicating risk to your members and staff isn’t just limited to waivers and disclaimers. You can also inform them in other ways, too, such as putting up signs and posters inside and outside of your gym. Make sure they can see what your protocols are as well as the risks that training may entail — you cannot guarantee they won’t contract the virus. You can also put language on your website to keep students returning and informed about changes and the need to sign your waivers and disclaimers. Cover all of your bases.

 

 

The Benefits of Waivers and Disclaimers

There are many benefits to employing waivers and disclaimers, including the gain of trust through transparency. The more transparent you are with your staff, students, and their parents, the greater the likelihood that they will come back and train or trust their loved ones to train with you.

 

But perhaps the greatest benefit is reducing liability and providing a safe space for your employees and members. Even though you’ve taken the necessary precautions to clean your gym and follow the CDC’s guidelines, you also have to protect yourself legally against risks that may be out of your control. Should your students contract the virus from someone who is asymptomatic, or worse, well aware that they’re infecting others, your ducks have to be in a row in the event of any legal action taken.

 

 

As we restructure our business models and work toward finding our new normal, it’s important to be protected as best as possible from the unique circumstance that is COVID-19. With these tips in hand, you can have a successful reopen and strong future.

If you missed the chance to watch our webinar on How to Successfully Prepare to Reopen Your Gym Post COIVD-19, watch us here.

 


 

Resources:

https://www.askdifference.com/waiver-vs-disclaimer/

https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/waivers-of-liability-in-the-covid-19-39711/

COVID-19 Sample

https://blockinsurance.net/